For Dorian, the appearance of beauty is all that matters, and many characters in the novel judge him solely on his looks, rather than his actions. It is the worship of youth and beauty for beauty's sake that leads to Dorian down the path of hedonism and from there to the embrace of sin.
Early in the novel, Dorian is a somewhat innocent character, and the artist, Basil Hallward, feels protective toward the young man, and does not want others to intrude on their friendship, especially the cynical Lord Henry. The boy has had such a profound effect on Hallward's soul that it has influenced all his work, and he tells Lord Henry, "He is all my art to me now" (Wilde 11). To Hallward, Dorian's looks do reflect something beyond youth and beauty, an admirable personality. But once Dorian begins to associate with Lord Henry Wottan, he learns a new way of expressing himself.
Lord Henry likes to play with the idea of morality, teaching Dorian that "the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it" (Wilde 21). In this, he is beginning to lead Dorian down a path of selfish immorality, one where he may do whatever he likes without consequence. He explains the route of hedonism, beginning by convincing Dorian that "youth is the one thing worth having" (Wilde 24), that beauty is more important than thought (Wilde 25), and that his life will be completely worthless without these two qualities. He also explains, "Nothing can sure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul" (Wilde 23), and Dorian, unfortunately, takes to heart only the first part of this maxim. Where Lord Henry's philosophy allows the beautiful young man to become a hedonist, it does acknowledge the importance of the soul, but Dorian doesn't understand this. As Martin Fido succinctly puts it, "Dorian's delight in his own beauty and youthleads him to place the stimulation of the senses through exotic beauty above every other value. This leads to his appalling corruptions" (Fido 85).
Oscar Wilde was familiar with the aesthetics of both Hallward and Henry. As an artist, he was familiar with the ideal of beauty for beauty's sake, and he discusses this in his preface, where he explains the role of the artist as "the creator of beautiful things" (xxiii) and also that seeing beauty in beautiful things is the only way to be cultivated. However, we also see Henry's amorality in this preface, when Wilde dismisses the idea of morality or immorality in art (Wilde xxiii). Wilde must have examined this idea from many angles, due to the world he lived in. As he was writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, the culture he lived in was busy condemning his own behavior as immoral. Since he believed "his literary and social standing would protect him" (Nunokawa 12) from persecution, he became less discreet about his relationships with other men even as the English parliament was passing laws again homosexuality, and eventually he was convicted of being gay, and sentenced to two years of hard labor for this crime (Nunokawa 12). If Wilde had instead remained secretive about his actions, he